I was at Blogworld in Los Angeles last week and a lot of the conversation circled around Google+. Chris Brogan gave a keynote speech and has already written a soon-to-be-published book about it. Keynote partner Guy Kawasaki suggested Facebook is for friends and family and Google + is for connecting with people you don’t know (yet), but have common interests with.
I agree with Guy’s evaluation of Facebook. It works best between people with an existing personal connection. He also said brand pages have also become an essential part of Facebook and offer marketers the opportunity to leverage on the wide array of personal data.
I’m not sure about the second part of his statement. I think many of us are still struggling to understand what Google + really is and what part it will play in our personal and professional lives.
Google already has many great services starting with Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Reader, Maps, Wallet and more, stretching all the way to YouTube and Picasa. (And let’s not forget Chrome and Android!) Google+ will unfold its full power if all these pieces are intelligently being stitched together. There have been some great articles about the potential of a Google social network and tips how to benefit from it, and I’ll try not to be too repetitive or broad.
Will it become a viable alternative to Facebook?
Some early adopters are migrating their efforts from other platforms to to Google+. But unlike some 3-4 years ago, that’s not the bulk of the social web users any more. The migration dynamics would be quite different this time around. This much bigger herd of today is more likely to stay at its current meadow and eat the grass already there, not the grass on the next mountain just to see if it tastes any better. The average social network member will gravitate towards the use of one platform. S/he will be where their friends are. And for the foreseeable future that happens to be Facebook. This is also key for marketers that want to reach a wider audience. As much as the quality of conversations matter, we also need to reach a critical mass in quantity for many campaigns to make sense.
Let’s be a little patient with Google+ pages
Google + just launched the option for businesses to create their own page. The pages look very bare bone and you can’t do much except add a logo, pictures, a description of your business and a link to your website. It’s currently not allowed to run promotions on Google+. You can only link to a promotion at a 3rd party site. You can also only add people to the circles of your page once they’ve added you.
Having circles for pages is of course one main differentiator from Facebook. Apparently Google felt pressured to launch their version of business pages even though it is still very beta. Expect much more to come soon. Right now there is only one admin allowed per page but we expect that to change very quickly. I also imagine that Google will want to increase appeal to allow marketers to run contests, sweepstakes, etc.; just not at this early stage of the product development cycle.
Keep in mind that in their early days Facebook Pages were nothing more than a tweaked version of Facebook groups and it was hard to recognize the difference. They were clearly not as feature packed as they are today.
Where is Google heading with this product?
Trying to mimic Facebook Pages would be a challenge. Pages are now mostly being powered and driven by social ads and apps and those just don’t make sense for Google+ (yet).
No one was skeptical when Facebook opened its doors for the public, because the site was already populated with student loyalists. The situation was a little different when Twitter came around. A lot of people stayed on the fence for quite a while. Twitter’s success has to do with its novelty factor and how it positioned itself as a backbone for many other 3rd party social media tools. All these “Tweet this” and “tweet that” buttons didn’t really replace anything. They were an addition. In the case of Google+, it’s not completely clear yet what it’s replacing or creating. To me, it looks a bit like a spaceship in a cosmic cloud that isn’t sure where to land yet.
I see it as taking some conversation away from Twitter and LinkedIn but not so much from Facebook. It’s early adopter userbase isn’t really using Facebook for their conversations, but that might shift down the road. Google has some cards up their sleeve that they haven’t play yet. I am sure Chris Brogan will elaborate about that in his book.
Is it enough that some main influencers putting their money on Google+?
I am not convinced yet. This is a serious effort by Google, but is also a Herculean task. People only have so much online time and every network lives by people spending time on it. Twitter was just able to convince people to allocate some of their offline time to do something online. User behaviors have matured since then. Google needs to “steal” this time from someone else.
As marketers, we know it’s much easier to keep an existing customer than to gain a new one. Facebook’s 800 million crowd is theirs to lose.
Many of our clients cater to a large consumer audience and are not interested in 50 B2B connections. They’d rather give 100,00 samples away to gain genuine, valuable feedback. They want to run targeted ads to promote their campaigns. They care about the results not about the platform a campaign is run on. We advise our clients to meet their customers at their online destination, not asking them to come and visit them (at their own website).
However, if I were to launch a new social media analytics tool or a new software to edit podcasts, I would look at Google+ to do so. I’d be frustrated by the limitations but I know the people I’d want to know about my product are on there. If a customer of ours wants their clients to post videos from their cruise ship experiences or invite their friends to vote for their favorite charity, Google+ is pretty pointless.
I know Google has a very talented team working on this. The problem I see is that you could take the product in some many directions that it is hard to come up with a cohesive vision and execute it. Unless Google already knows exactly what the web will look like in 5 years from now, they’ll have a wobbly ball in their hand.